NOBODY alive has previously experienced what has rocked society globally, that term we all want to eradicate as soon as possible — Covid-19.
Life before Covid posed new challenges for many age groups, none more so that children transitioning from primary school to secondary school. The rapid growth of social media and technology has not so much caught parents and teachers off-guard, but has thrown up many challenges which many of us are struggling to cope with.
Pick up a newspaper on any given day or listen to the news and you will probably find an article or discussion around the mental health challenges our youth are facing; the problems social media pose for them and bewildering challenges both parents and teachers face when trying to cope with everything. To add fuel to the fire, we now have to contend with the absolute havoc Covid-19 has caused.
5 th and 6 th class kids are especially vulnerable, why – because they are about to go from a closeted environment of primary school, where they were big fishes in a small pond and now become small fishes in a big pond. On top of this, this is the age when technology and social media starts to become a part of their daily life.
Cork Mental Health, one of the longest established mental health charities not just in Cork but nationally, have for many years been at the forefront of helping teacher, parents and young people cope with the challenges of growing up. Over the past number of years, pre-COVID, the evolution of technology and the impact it has on young children’s minds has posed problems for teachers and parents alike. With a significant increase in the percentage of families now with both parents working, technology offers some comforting benefits but also rapidly increased the negative challenges which have to be contended with.
Education officer with Cork Mental Health, Martina Ryan, has seen it all and is at the forefront of providing support for schools and teachers to help young people cope with these challenges, specifically around that transition period when children are migrating from primary school to secondary school.
Cork Mental Health developed a Mental Health Awareness Workshop, which has been successfully rolled across many primary schools across the county and Martina says, “Over the years the content of the workshop has evolved to include the areas that are most relevant and of interest to the children, for instance in the last few years social media has definitely become an area that we spend a significant amount of time discussing”.
The workshop covers many areas, such as the transition to secondary school, bullying, friendship, coping skills and tips to looking after your mental health.
When schools reopened post lockdown in September, there was significant increase in the number of requests for the workshop coming from schools. Many teachers were reporting an increase in anxiety and worry among the students in their classes. This prompted the development of a mental health toolkit, a resource for the teacher to use in the classrooms that will allow opportunities to bring up and discuss various aspects of mental health.
The toolkit consists of 10 activity cards with instructions of how to create a dialogue on a specific topic, and an activity based around that discussion.
“Mental Health is definitely an area that is discussed more often in schools and it is heartening to see how much importance teachers are placing on their students mental health, using these activity cards can create a designated time and space to discuss mental health whilst making it fun too”.
Some of the activities included are ‘Creating a friendship recipe’, ‘My coping skills toolbox’, ‘relaxation techniques’ and ‘Confidence boosters’. The toolkit also contains a ruler for each child, on the front of which are 10 tips for looking after your mental health to remind the children of the benefits of eating a balanced diet, exercising, getting enough sleep and talking to a trusted adult. On the back of the ruler are a list of website and phone supports available to them. Each child also receives a brochure containing an overview of the content of the workshop and can be used in further class discussions.
While there’s light at the end of the tunnel regarding COVID, Martina stresses that it is still important to try and do simple but regular things that will help children and parents, some tips she recommends are as follows:
Daily exercise and fresh air - Children are missing out on their extracurricular activities and sports in particular, exercise benefits our mental health just as much as our physical health.
Routine – trying to maintain and adhere to a structure in your day, having set bedtimes, schoolwork time and mealtimes.
Sleep – an analogy I often use with children is to think of their bodies as being like the battery on their phone “Who loves it when their phone is charged to 100%?” Answer: everyone! So our bodies need to be charged to 100% for us to get through our day, the only way to do this is to get enough sleep. Try to avoid using iPad’s and phones in bed. The recommended amount of sleep for a 10–12- year-old is 10-11 hours a night.
Checking in – ask your child how they are doing, is there anything they feel they are struggling with?
What worries do they have? Creating a space and time where they can open up about their feelings and thoughts.
Screen time – during lockdown online interaction is often the only way children have to communicate with their peers and friends, however social media is flooded with repeated negative media coverage on COVID-19, try to limit their exposure to it when possible and talk to them about it.
Remind them – this will not last forever, and you are very proud of them for all the work they are doing.
Look after your own mental health – in order to look after your family you need to look after yourself and your wellbeing, so you are best placed to support others. Ensure you are getting the support you need and regular exercise, good sleep, and nutritious food.
Both the workshop and toolkit are available free of charge, for further information contact Martina at Cork Mental Health at firstname.lastname@example.org Cork Mental Health – serving Cork City and County for the last 60-years. www.corkmentalhealth.com